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Microsoft buys users time with extension

Its updated product support policy calls for a 10-year minimum

By Carol Sliwa
May 31, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SAN DIEGO – User reaction was generally upbeat after Microsoft Corp. announced last week that it plans to extend the support phase for business and developer products to a minimum of 10 years (see story).

The support policy, which takes effect today, updates the timetable that the software maker set in October 2002. The old plan called for five years of mainstream support and two years of extended support. Under the updated policy, there will be a minimum of five years of mainstream support followed by five years of extended support.

"It is very welcome news. The big challenge we face is the logistical issue of upgrading 30,000 devices across more than 5,000 locations. It is a huge undertaking," said Ron Cook, vice president of technology, strategy and operations at RadioShack Corp. "When we have to do an upgrade solely due to the product ending its support life rather than technical reasons, it is a big expense. The extra support time will allow us to schedule upgrades for the right reasons."

But the new mainstream and extended support policy will apply only to software released during the past five years, said Peter Houston, Microsoft's senior director of servicing strategy. He said that he is not aware of any exceptions being made. He also noted that the new plan won't cover Windows NT 4.0 Server or Exchange 5.5. The extended support period for those two products is due to expire at the end of this year.

The mainstream support phase provides for no-charge incident support, support for warranty claims and hot-fix support, as well as paid per-incident support and support charged on an hourly basis. Extended support essentially includes the paid options—with the exception of security hot fixes, which are still free during that phase.

"Since their 10-year support does not include anything I am running, it really is very useless to me," said David Curran, manager of IT at CE Franklin Ltd. in Calgary, Alberta. He said 60% of his company's Windows servers run NT, including those with Exchange 5.5.

Some customers who have yet to migrate off older products may consider paid extension options from Microsoft or third-party vendors, unless they decide to run the products unsupported.

Several users said they have been forced to keep older versions of Windows and other Microsoft products as a result of application dependencies involving software built by third-party vendors.

However, Houston said older products are "not as serviceable" due to advances in software development technologies and methodologies. Houston added that products shipping eight to 10 years ago were designed well before many of the most serious security-threat models had surfaced.

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